Jan Sewell – BFI Masterclass

It was the moment that Bafta-winning hair, make-up and prosthetics artist Jan Sewell was describing  her role on the film The Devil’s Double that I realised we were attending the perfect BFI masterclass before filming our next short, Veiled.

Without giving too much away our next short, a horror, will feature one actor playing four roles. It was, therefore, perfect to hear such a successful artist, as Jan Sewell, describe how the subtlest of changes in hair and make-up can distinguish between characters played by the same actor. In this particular case she was describing the minute changes she had to make to Dominic Cooper and the complications that came from Dominic playing Uday Hussein, Latif Yaha and Latif Yaha acting as Uday Hussein. Slightly different looks were needed for all three incarnations of the British Actor.

For Pallas’s next production, Veiled, hair and make-up, along with other technical considerations, will be extremely important if we want to do justice to the story we are going to tell in our first horror short. The opportunity to learn, therefore, from a master like Jan Sewell was a real honour.

Jan’s career has been fascinating. She began her career at the BBC honing her triptych of skills on comic chameleons Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. In fact some of the most iconic moments of 1980s and 1990s’ alternative comedy are thanks to the magic of Jan’s make-up (think Patsy in the kitchen-fire scene in Absolutely Fabulous). In 1993 she won a Bafta for her work on the French and Saunders show.

Recent film credits include X-men: First Class, Les Miserables, World War Z and the Oscar-winning The Theory of Everything. While describing her experience working with Eddie Redmayne (In case you are wondering his left side is his best side) she gave her best advice for budding artists. It was valuable advice not just for hair and make-up artists but anyone working in film. Here are the key things we took away ahead of our next production:

Focus – Not in terms of the camera (although important) but with regard to concentration on the film. The film is everything, ignore all else.

Planning -Preproduction is essential. Prepping for as long as possible is something Jan reiterated throughout the evening

Dialogue – Discussion with all departments was paramount to get the best make-up for the actors and what the film requires.

Knowledge – Having a basic understanding of all disciplines helps your work and understanding the script and knowing how it plays out is crucial.

The real takeaway of the night for me, though, was Jan describing the ‘bible’ that she keeps for every production. It sounded a bit like the ultimate film scrap book but she uses it to record all the work she does throughout each production to ensure that the looks she creates remain consistent – especially important as films are rarely filmed chronologically.

Jan’s most recent work will be seen later this year in Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest and Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl both of which will demonstrate her great ability.

RL 25/5/15